At 5:30pm in the Basilica of St. John Lateran on Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis celebrated Mass, during which he officially took possession of the Cathedra of the Bishop of Rome.
At the taking of possession, there was an act of obedience carried out by a representation of Rome's ecclesial community. Just as at the Mass inaugurating his Petrine ministry—when six cardinals, two from each of the three orders: bishop, priest, and deacon, represented the entire College of Cardinals—representatives from the Diocese of Rome made the act of obedience: Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar general of Rome; the vice gerent and an auxiliary bishop of the diocese; a pastor and assistant pastor; a deacon, male religious, and female religious; as well as a family and a young lay man and lay woman.
[Full text of Pope's homily HERE]
The Pope dedicated his homily to God's “patience”, referring to the Gospel reading of the day in which the Apostle Thomas experiences God's mercy, “which has a concrete face … that of the risen Jesus. Thomas doesn't trust what the other Apostles tell him ... He wants to see .. and what is Jesus' reaction? Patience: Jesus doesn't abandon stubborn-headed Thomas to his disbelief. He gives him a week’s time. He doesn't close the door but waits. And Thomas recognizes his own poverty, his little faith. 'My Lord and my God!': with this simple yet faith-filled supplication, he responds to Jesus’ patience. He lets himself be enveloped by divine mercy, sees it in front of him, in Christ's wounds on his hands and feet ... and he rediscovers his trust. He is a new man: no longer an unbeliever, but a believer.”
Even Peter denied Jesus three times, “precisely when he should have been closest to him. And when he hits bottom he encounters the gaze of Jesus who patiently, wordlessly, says to him: 'Peter, don’t be afraid of your weakness. Trust in me.' And Peter understands. He feels Jesus' loving gaze and he weeps. How beautiful is this gaze of Jesus – how much tenderness there is in it! Brothers and sisters, let us never lose trust in God's patient mercy!”
The story is repeated with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who have, “sad faces and an empty and hopeless journey. But Jesus does not abandon them. He walks the path with them and not only that! Patiently He explains the Scriptures referring to him and He stops to share a meal with them. This is God’s way of doing things. He is not impatient like us, who often want everything and right away, even from others. God is patient with us because He loves us and those who love are able to understand, to hope, ... They don't burn bridges but know how to forgive. Let's remember this in our lives as Christians: God always waits for us, even when we have drawn away from him! He is never far from us and, if we return to him, He is ready to embrace us.”
Continuing, the pontiff observed that rereading the parable of the merciful Father always makes a strong impression upon him. “It strikes me,” he said, “because it always gives me great hope. Think of that younger son living in his Father’s house: he was loved and yet he wants his part of the inheritance. He goes off, spends everything, and hits rock bottom. [Then] he misses the warmth of his Father’s house and returns home. And the Father? Had he forgotten his son? No, never. ... with patience and love, with hope and mercy, he had never stopped thinking about him for a second and, as soon as he sees him still far off, he runs out to meet him and embraces him with tenderness, with God's tenderness, without a word of reproach: he has come back! And that is the Father's joy. All of this joy is in that embrace of the son: he has come back!”
“God is always waiting for us. He never grows tired. Jesus shows us God's merciful patience so that we might regain our confidence and hope, always! A great German theologian, Romano Guardini, said that God responds to our weakness with his patience and this is the reason for our confidence, for our hope.”
Emphasizing another aspect, the Pope noted that “God’s patience must find in us the courage to return to him, whatever mistakes and sins there may be in our lives. Jesus invites Thomas to put his hand in the wounds of his hands and his feet ... It is precisely in Jesus' wounds that we are safe; in them lies his heart's immense love. ... Saint Bernard asks: but what can I count on? On my own merits? But 'my merit is God’s mercy'. ... This is important: the courage to entrust myself to Jesus’ mercy, to trust in his patience, to always take refuge in the wounds of his love. …”
“Perhaps some of us are thinking: my sin is so great; my distance from God is like that of the younger son in the parable; my disbelief is like that of Thomas; I don’t have the courage to go back or to believe that God might welcome me or that He is waiting just for me. But God is waiting for you. He only asks of you the courage to go to him. How many times in my pastoral ministry have I heard it repeated: 'Father, I have many sins'; and the plea I have always made is: 'Don’t be afraid. Go to him. He is waiting for you. He will take care of everything.' ... For God, we are not numbers. We are important; indeed we are the most important thing to him. Even if we are sinners we are what is closest to his heart.”
“After sinning,” the pope explained, “Adam feels ashamed. He feels naked, sensing the weight of what he has done. And yet God does not abandon him. If at that moment, through sin, his exile from God begins, there is already a promise of return, the possibility of returning to him. ... It is precisely in feeling my sinfulness, in looking at my sins, that I can see and encounter God’s mercy, his love, and go to him to receive forgiveness.”
“... Let us be embraced by God's mercy. Let us trust in his patience, which always gives us time. Let us find the courage to return to his house and to dwell in his loving wounds, allowing ourselves be loved by him and to encounter his mercy in the Sacraments. We will feel his tenderness, which is so beautiful, we will feel his embrace, and we too will become more capable of mercy, of patience, of forgiveness, and of love.”
He addressed them saying:
“Brothers and sisters, good evening! Thank you so much for your company in today's Mass. I ask that you pray for me: I need it. Don't forget this. Thank you all! And now let us go forward together, the people and the bishop, all together, always forward with the joy of Jesus' Resurrection. He is always at our side. May the Lord bless you.”
After blessing the faithful, the Pope bid them farewell saying, “thank you so much. See you soon!”
Vatican Radio Reports:
The relationship between the bishop and the people was at the heart of the simple, solemn installation of the Successor of Peter in the Roman Cathedral of the Lateran. It is an important rite that has been preserved down the centuries and which, even in the changing times and despite the periods of its eclipse, has always intended to express the papacy's most authentic dimension: the pastoral dimension that is indissolubly bound to the Diocese of Rome and is rooted in the threefold command that Christ addressed to the first of the Apostles.
Pope Francis, in continuity with his Predecessors and with simple gestures and words. has known how to express and communicate this dimension with an instantaneous and new effect from the very first moments of his pontificate, awakening interest and sympathy among believers and non-believers alike. These gestures and words come from the personal history of the Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio and in his episcopate, as he himself has said on several occasions, and as appears from his unusual motto: miserando et eligendo. Taken from St Bede's comment on the episode of the calling of the publican Matthew, later both Apostle and Evangelist, the Latin words aim to express Jesus' approach: his mercy and the invitation to follow him, namely, the essentials of the Christian faith – as their Bishop explained to the People of Rome, talking about God's patience. In consistence and continuity with the daily homily that Pope Francis preaches at his morning Mass.
Jesus' gaze of merciful tenderness (miserando), shows this patience of God which – in accordance with an ancient insight expressed in our day by Romano Guardini and mentioned by the Pope – is his response to human weakness. It is in this way that merciful father waiting for his son behaves, and in this way the Risen Christ gives the Apostle Thomas a week in which to recover from his unbelief, just as he had waited for Peter's tears and his threefold answer that that balances his threefold denial.
It therefore means waiting, but at the same time it is a call (et eligendo), it is the patience of the Father who looks forward to his son's return. “How many worldly proposals we hear around us”, Pope Francis remarked, gently inviting people to let themselves be grasped by God's proposal, “for his is a caress of love” expressed; a love expressed by Jesus' life and his sacrifice, hence by his wounds, invoked in the rhythmic medieval prayer, Anima Christi, which recurs several times in Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises and disseminated once again thanks to the very beautiful melody that it was set to by Taizé.
And the Bishop of Rome recalled his own personal experience vividly to remind his people to find “the courage to enter the wounds of Jesus”. Thus encountering his mercy in the sacraments, “we will feel his embrace, and we too will become more capable of mercy, patience, forgiveness and love”.